Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ministry of Spiritual Direction

It seemed so natural and attractive for me when I was in studies for the Diaconate back in 1990. I have been a psychologist since 1974, and have always enjoyed being with people in their life journeys. When I went on my first directed retreat at the Jesuit Spirituality Centre in Guelph, I came to understand that the dynamic between my director and me was based on the structure of the Spiritual Exercises written by St. Ignatius in the 16th century. Not only is Ignatius brilliant in his insights into the problem of evil, the way we make choices, the need to choose for God, and so on, my psychologist mind found his way of praying the scriptures with imagining, his way of dialoguing with Jesus and his mother and the Trinity, to be most fascinating. I read everything I could about his life, including his autobiography. I took three workshops in Spiritual Direction over successive summers. And I was hooked.

It was not always easy. The psychologist in me kept wanting to intervene, when I met with people. My instructors would tell me, 'Well that's very interesting, but it's not spiritual direction.' I had to learn that the first task of a person who is journeying with another as they deepen their relationship with Jesus, is to stay out of the way of the Spirit! Instead, listen for the work of the Spirit in the person's life. Help them learn to pray, but above all help them develop a discerning heart, the kind that sees God in all things.

Spiritual Direction is my Diaconate service ministry, and I have been seeing people from all over the diocese, as well as from Kingston itself. What a privilege, what a graced activity. The people I see cannot appreciate this, I suppose, but they bring the most wonderful gift to me as well, that of focusing my attention on God present. Indeed, letting me see God in them.

Anyone interested in exploring this, send me an email at the address shown on the page here. I will get back to you.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Haiti- the limited power of events

I have found it very difficult to watch the events in Haiti after the earthquake on January 12. So much suffering. Feeling so powerless. Feeling numb after seeing the same clips over and over. But then something started to catch my attention. The first time it was sweet and reassuring. The tenth and twentieth time, with different people each time, it became a confirmed and noticeable pattern. I am referring to the number of people, especially among those who had been trapped and then were freed, who said that they were not scared under the rubble because they handed it over to God. And they trusted God.

They couldn't have made this up. They couldn't have been talking pious platitudes in the face of such reality. They were talking of their real experience and their real behaviour.

I have told so many people so many times in my psychologist's office that the challenge facing them in their difficulty is to not let it determine the kind of day they were having. Events and people do not have that power. It is theirs, they need to claim it for themselves.

The people of Haiti do themselves proud. They witness so beautifully, so simply. God did not cause this tragedy, but God is there with the victims, reminding them that not even a collapsed building wins when they trust their God. God remains the anchor of all meaning in their lives. Thank you, people of Haiti, you have given me a great gift.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Taking the news home

The image I had of the wise men this year was not so much about finding the manger where Jesus was born, but rather about their return home to report on it. It hit me that we who have been there cannot just walk away and say 'that was neat.' We do need to tell someone. In fact we are challenged to tell someone.

All of that was fresh in my mind as I met with a group of young adult staff at a facility where I do some work. These are street smart people,and they are forever teaching me about what young people are confronted with everyday out there. One of them, who knows I am involved in Church stuff, mentioned he had gone to a Christmas service. We discussed it a bit, and I talked about my ministry and how busy things were at St. Paul's over Christmas. He said how it felt neat being at the Church where he had gone, and suddenly we were discussing liturgy, being taken to Church by our parents when we were young, and so on. Next thing I know, 5 or 6 of the other guys are joining in. People from Pentecostal, Anglican, Catholic, and other traditions, not practicing as far as I could tell, freely sharing about their religion backgrounds in a positive way.

I would never have guessed that such a discussion could take place in that setting. I shudder to think that if I was wrong there, how many other times have I been wrong, and missed great opportunities? I suspect the wise men told their news to a pretty skeptical audience. Did they do it with enthusiasm, with conviction? Did they look for opportunities to do it?

We have been to the manger. We are the wise men, the 'visitors from the east' returning home. Have we told anyone?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thoughts on the secularization of Christmas

People who heard my homilies through Advent and Christmas this year may have noticed an urgency around the theme of the secularization of Christmas. I have been surprised at how many of my friends and acquaintances wished me ‘Happy Holidays’, or inquired as to what I would be doing for ‘the holiday’.
This is a recent phenomenon, how did it happen? The best sense I can make of it is that there is a desire not to offend anyone. The flip side of that is wishing to be inclusive. The outcome is that December 25, marking the birth of Christ, is made over as a mere calendar holiday, with gift buying, a couple days off work, and a turkey, at the heart of it.
I was so pleased to hear one satellite radio station I listen to, playing ‘Hanukah’ music throughout the 12 days, and calling it Hanukah music. Another satellite radio station played ‘the best of holiday music’ through December. That would be your traditional Christmas music, Silent Night and O Holy Night, etc, among them.
I was also delighted to read Ben Stein’s piece again, that included this: "I am a Jew ….It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away."
I was delighted to read in Andrew Hanon’s column in the Whig Standard November 23, 09: "It’s ok to wish him (21 year old student Amjad K.) a Merry Christmas. “It’s like they’ll start to say it, then stop themselves and ask, “what’s that thing you guys do at this time of year?” For the record, its Eid, the Muslim celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. But he insists, ‘Merry Christmas’ is just fine. It’s not an issue."
Christians, Jews, and Muslims honour their feasts. It is not any of those groups who wish to negate a feast celebrated by the other. It is, rather, I think, a misguided political correctness at best; and a movement to take religion out of everything public, at worst. That has a destructive impact on all religious observance, not just Christian.
Canadian Sociologist Reg Bibby has discovered repeatedly in his surveys that Canadians, even non-regular church attenders, place importance on the religious significance of events in their lives.
Hopefully we will not give Christ away to secularization. Hopefully Jewish people will not lose Hanukah. Hopefully Muslims will always honour Eid. We are all at risk for diminishing religious significance when we adopt the empty message of ‘happy holidays.’
Out here in the Orchard, all creation honours the Creator. We who live here are indeed, as Ben Stein said, ‘all brothers and sisters’. May we remember to call things by their right names.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A New Year, a new experience

I have missed writing my article ‘Notes from the Orchard’ in the Diocesan paper Journey. Fr. Leo and I have talked for a while about the blog format for our parish website. Father likes the idea, and so here goes!
Over the 19 years of writing the piece in Journey my reflections evolved to take on the perspective of an observer sitting on the middle of an orchard. There was and is a real orchard. It is the apple orchard at the Jesuit Spirituality Centre ('Loyola House') in Guelph where I have been going on 8-day retreats for about 18 years. My interest in a ministry of Spiritual Direction was nourished there, but along the way the orchard became very special to me. It is a place to stop. To stop and look at nature. You see trees, apples, bees, groundhogs, bugs, birds, and grass, yes grass. Is it just me, or do we walk over and around things all day and not notice them? In this orchard I am able to see Creation and marvel at how it reveals the Creator, the Orchard Master. I came to view the orchard as a template for my life back home, where I also fail to see so much - mostly especially the way God reveals himself. More on that later.
Meanwhile, this is a wonderful way to return to those reflections and to voice them 'out loud', so to speak. From my perspective, the blogs will be short personal reflections on an array of topics, appearing minimally every couple of weeks, and maybe every couple of hours, depending on what is transpiring. Mostly they will follow the ‘Orchard’ pattern of spiritual reflection. At the end of the day, their purpose will be to stimulate thought, discussion, and prayer.
A very Happy and Blessed New Year.